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The Life of Jesus - Series 4: Episode 14

Seeking treasure in heaven

| Martin Charlesworth
Matthew 6:19-24

Materialism affects all of society and was found in the Jewish religion of Jesus' day. We should trust God to provide, think about heavenly rewards rather than earthly, and be generous in our giving to combat materialism.

Materialism affects all of society and was found in the Jewish religion of Jesus' day. We should trust God to provide, think about heavenly rewards rather than earthly, and be generous in our giving to combat materialism.


Hello and welcome to our next episode in Series 4. We're on Episode 14, and we're going to be talking about ‘Seeking Treasure in Heaven’. We're in Matthew 6: 19 - 24. Thanks for joining us again for this episode.

Introduction and Recap

Some of you will have been following all the series through, but particularly for the benefit of those who haven't been following Series 4, it's worth reminding ourselves of the wider context of this passage. Jesus has established his ministry in Galilee for a period of time with huge crowds gathering. His teaching and miracles are becoming well-known. He's been gathering disciples and critically, as Luke 6 tells us, in the parallel passage, he's appointed twelve Apostles just before delivering what we've come to call the Sermon on the Mount. As soon as the apostles are gathered, he starts forming the discipleship community through teaching, and that's very important. Discipleship is really formed through teaching that shapes our character, our ethics, our outlook, our lifestyle, and so if we're considering Christian discipleship in the modern world, the Sermon on the Mount is a central place to go. It's absolutely foundational in many ways.

In Matthew 5, we saw three different things. We saw Jesus teaching about the underlying attitudes of disciples in the Beatitudes. Secondly, we saw him talk about his relationship with the Law of Moses. He denied that he was ignoring it, or abolishing it - he said he'd come to fulfil it, and he explains in the rest of chapter 5 in six different sections, which we've done in six different episodes, ways in which he was applying and deepening principles and commands in the Law of Moses. He also took the opportunity to refute some other things that the religious leaders had added in as commands for the people to obey. The early part of chapter 6, which precedes the section we are dealing with, had three sections which looked at aspects of public religious life amongst the Jews of the time. One was giving to the poor - always done publicly; second was prayer - mostly done publicly, in synagogues, on street corners, and in the Temple; and the third one was fasting- where people also were very public about their fasting, by indicating by their physical appearance that they were fasting in order to draw attention to that fact. During those three episodes, we noticed that Jesus distinguished between religious actions which are motivated by impressing people, and those actions which are motivated by obeying, serving and pleasing our heavenly Father. He encouraged disciples to give to the poor, to pray, and to fast as discreetly and, preferably, secretly as possible. As you give to the poor, your left hand doesn't know what your right hand is doing; when you're praying, you the door quietly and go away from people; when you're fasting, you brighten up your appearance to make sure that you don't look as though you're fasting; and in all these ways, you're not motivated by pleasing other people - you're motivated by pleasing your Father in heaven. These are the teachings that we've had in the immediately preceding episodes.

Jesus' Teaching on Materialism

Now, Jesus moves the focus onto the question of materialism, and the sort of fears we have about provision in this life. It's a very well-known teaching we're looking at today, but it's really worth pausing and thinking about Jesus' teachings about treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. Fundamental to discipleship is our relationship with material possessions, material wealth and money. Let's read the passage together, Matthew 6: 19 - 24,

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24“No one can serve two masters. Either you'll hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Matthew 6:19-24, NIV

I want to say a few things about the context of Jesus making these very big statements: first of all in a broad sense, we have to say that materialism is an issue in all cultures and at all times. It's commonly said that the modern world is very materialistic, that the modern Western world is particularly materialistic. I think these things are true but I think materialism has been an issue in every society. If you look back in history, you see when opportunities come to accumulate wealth, security and financial resources, people will seize those opportunities and many injustices take place in the pursuit of wealth. That's happened in every society and history too. Materialism is a big issue in every society.

Materialism in the Jewish Religion

In the Jewish religion in the time of Jesus, materialism was not approved of, but it was a hidden issue that was just below the surface of the religious life of Israel. Jesus knew this all too well. I want to give you a couple of examples of this, because this is the immediate context of some things that Jesus is teaching at this time. I want to mention two interesting things that illustrate the power of materialism. The first one is this: Jesus, twice in his ministry, went to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and confronted the materialism that was taking place through trading in the Temple compound. This happened at the beginning of his ministry, as recorded in John 2, and it took place at the end of his ministry, as recorded, for example, in Matthew's gospel. Jesus was engaging with the authorities in the Temple, and we discuss this in more detail when we look at this particular instance, but I'll just give you a summary of it here. One thing that the Temple authorities, and particularly the priests, who were controlled by the High Priest, did was they created a monopolistic trading environment within the Temple compound. When people came to worship for the religious festivals and feasts, they needed two things to fulfil their worship. They needed animals for animal sacrifice, and they needed suitable coins and money to use to buy things in the Temple compound. The Temple authorities didn't permit them to use Roman coins in the Temple compound. They had their own coinage, the Temple coinage, which was specially minted for that purpose. In the Temple area, if you were a pilgrim or a traveller coming in, and you wanted to make a religious sacrifice, you're had to change your money and then had to buy products that were sold there, particularly live animals, but other things were sold there as well. It was a monopoly, and a lot of money was made by the priestly family. The patriarch of the High Priest's family was known as Annas. He was the father-in-law of the current High Priest, Caiaphas, at the time of Jesus. This market trading was known by contemporary Jews as the market, or the bazaar, of the sons of Annas. Jesus twice confronted these traders by interrupting their trade, turning over the tables, and confronting them verbally by saying they were corrupting the Temple. That's materialism, right in the Jewish religious hierarchy. The priests were making a lot of money out of their religious position. I wonder if that sounds familiar to you. That can happen in any religion. In Christianity, people who are church leaders, preachers, ministers, pastors, or priests can make a lot of money in certain circumstances. It's a corruption; it's a form of materialism if they're motivated by money.

Secondly, we notice in Jesus' discussion of the Pharisees - I've mentioned the Pharisees a few times recently - they come up all the time. They were a religious sect in Israel who were very devout in the outward religious signs of their religion. Jesus said very specifically in Luke 16: 13 -15, something very similar to what we've just read in Matthew 6,

13“No one can serve two masters. Either you'll hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” 14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.”

Luke 16:13-15, NIV

That's a really sobering passage, and it tells us that the Pharisees, the most religious group in Israel at the time, generally speaking, loved money; they wanted to make money out of their religious position. These are very shocking things, but it shows that materialism was there under the surface in Judaism.

Paul later on, comments on materialism on a number of occasions, perhaps most famously in 1 Timothy 6: 10, a well-known verse which I want to read because it's related to the theme that Jesus is speaking on here. 1 Timothy 6: 10 reads,

‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’

1 Timothy 6:10, NIV

“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’. It's not 'the' root of all evil, as some people say, but it is 'a' root. It is one major problem that can derail Christian discipleship and cause us to get distracted. I've known people in churches who start out really well, but their business interests, or their financial interest, becomes so all-consuming, they'll do anything to keep businesses moving, finances coming in, so they can get bigger and bigger properties, cars, and a richer and richer lifestyle, and gradually they drift away from Christian discipleship and 'pierce themselves with many kinds of evils'. Many kinds of problems arise out of that lifestyle. The context suggests to us that materialism is a big issue in Judaism at the time, and Jesus goes right to the heart of it, because he's just as radical over materialism as he is over how you speak to people, what your attitudes are, what your sexual ethics are, what your attitude to divorce is, or how you deal with people who oppose you. He's radical in every way, in every single area that he talked about. This is a very important example.

Earthly Treasure Can Decay

Verse 19 tells us that there are two problems with storing up earthly treasure: it'll lose its value through decay, or it will get stolen. Those were particular problems in those days because these were the days before there were banks in any formal sense, accessible to all the people. When you had valuable assets, you had to protect them, to store them in your home. People often buried them in the ground in secret locations, and so you were always vulnerable to theft, as well as to the fact that our wealth can decay over time, valuable items can become less valuable; money can lose its value as well as gain value. As I'm speaking to you now, the world is going through a huge economic crisis through the coronavirus pandemic at this particular point, and many people have seen their financial assets diminished drastically; many people have lost financial assets, and other material assets because they have a tendency to decay, to lose value in certain situations.


Jesus speaks here also about our 'eye'. What does he mean by the 'eye'? Verse 22,

22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!’

Matthew 6:22-23, NIV

‘The eye’ here really is a metaphor for human motivation, the human heart - inner motivations - that make us prioritise certain things. When he talks about the 'eye being the lamp of the body', he's talking about our motivations and our priorities. Good eyesight is likened here to loyalty to God, and poor eyesight is likened to commitment to materialism. Loyalty to God gives us clear eyesight, so to speak, clear perspective, so that we can see material things in their true perspective. That is a very important point for us as Christians. We know from people around us who don't share our faith, that often the investment in material progress, in savings, in possessions, in wealth, in land, in housing, and in material assets, can be all-consuming and entirely focusing. But for a Christian, we recognise that material things are important: organising our lives, providing for families, working hard in jobs, looking after our fields - all these things are important, but they're not the ultimately important thing. God provides for our needs. He wants us to have a standard of living where we can live viably in our society. He promises to give us our daily bread. We can pray every day for daily bread, but he has other things for us to prioritise our energy in. Those are not material things for our own benefit; they are the priorities of the Kingdom of God.

If I return briefly to what we discussed two episodes ago, when we looked at the Lord's Prayer, we see that in the Lord's Prayer very near the beginning, after we say, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’, we pray, ‘your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ ‘Your Kingdom come’. The priority of the Christian is to orientate their life around things that they feel God has called them to do, maybe as part of a local church, a commitment to ministry, in a role as a witness to their family and their friends, supporting people who are poor, supporting mission agencies in other countries, being involved in prayer and intercession for the coming of the Kingdom, whatever it might be. All those things are not focusing on material gain. Having good eyesight is getting your perspective right, and realising time and time again that this world is not the only world; the material things we have now will fade away, we'll lose them. It's an obvious truth that when we die, we don't take anything with us to the next life and to our eternal existence. All our material possessions are lost to us at that point. Therefore, they're only temporary by definition, and at the very beginning of this passage Jesus says, ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. In other words, invest in heavenly things rather than in material things.

Verse 24 tells us very categorically ‘you can't serve two masters’, you can't be serving money - under the control of money - as well as being under the control of the Holy Spirit. It is true that money, and the pursuit of money and wealth, can control people, and drive people forward in an incredible way, and those people can't be the disciples of Jesus. They simply cannot. You can't put the two things together. You'll serve God or you'll serve mammon, or money. This is a challenging passage isn't it?


Let's take a little time to reflect, as we come towards the end of this episode. Materialism is a big challenge for true discipleship in every culture. It's not just an issue in richer countries and amongst richer people. It is also present in poorer societies, amongst poorer people. It is really a universal problem; it manifests itself in different ways. You see more extreme versions of the outcomes of materialism in richer countries, because people have the opportunity to accumulate more wealth, and to display that wealth, and to keep that wealth secure for longer periods of time. Materialism is a problem that affects everyone, and Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that materialism could block people, literally block them, from becoming disciples of his.

There was a very dramatic example of that in Jesus' ministry when a man approached him. It's recorded in Mark 10: 17 onwards.  It's a passage that we study later on in the Word Online series on the life of Jesus.

‘But as Jesus was going along the road, a man came, and fell at his feet, saying, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mark 10:17, NIV

Someone who was following Jesus, noticing him, sincerely trying to work out what to do in life, and the conversation went on. He said that he'd obeyed all the commandments of Moses. Jesus says,

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, and follow me.”

Mark 10:21, NIV

At that point, the man was heartbroken. He couldn't believe that Jesus had said this to him. He was a wealthy man, and he didn't want his wealth and his security interrupted by Jesus, and so he didn't respond; he didn't give his life to Christ; he didn't become a disciple in that moment. No, he left Jesus, sad. It's a very sad story. Materialism was a block to true discipleship.

As we conclude this episode, I want to suggest to you three antidotes to materialism - three things that we can prioritise, that keep our focus in the right place. Number one, trust in God to provide for you. That active trust in God is really important. Even when we have enough to live on, and we're just living in a regular way, there's enough income coming into our families, we should be praying the Lord's Prayer every day and saying, ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ I pray the Lord's Prayer virtually every day, as I've mentioned previously, and I pray that prayer ‘Give us today our daily bread’, even when I don't have an immediate financial need, because it looks as though there's enough money in the bank and everything is fine at that particular point. This is an act of trust in our heavenly Father, rather than thinking “I've got enough, I don't need his help.’ It's always good to go back and think, ‘Well, where did I get that from in the first place? and what happens if next month there's far less in the bank and we're short of money and so on? Yes, trust in God to provide for you. Exercise that trust by regularly praying, ’Give us today our daily bread,’ that's the first thing.

Second thing, invest your finances and your energies in the eternal Kingdom of God. This is an active process, and so I encourage people to be committed members of local churches wherever you are. Find a church, join it and be committed to it. That commitment should manifest itself in financial commitment - sincere, sacrificial, financial commitment, however great or small. It might be very small, but it's the sacrificial element that counts. Giving finances to the Kingdom of God through the local church, that is the biblical model that we see developing in the New Testament church, and that's the primary thing we should be committed to. Invest your finances and your energies in the eternal Kingdom of God. Give your time to priorities of mission through your local church and in your local community.

Thirdly, and finally, take the opportunity to give your money away generously and discreetly, to people in need that you notice, whose needs are brought before you. We discussed this in an earlier episode, when we looked at the teaching of Jesus at the beginning of Matthew 6, concerning giving to the poor and needy. Prioritise giving away. That always loosens the control of finances over your heart and mind. If you have the capacity to give some away, give some to the Kingdom of God through the work of the church and other mission work; give some to the poor; and also give some to your wider family as they need your support.

This episode presents yet another challenge. Discipleship is not an easy road, but it's a joyful road; it's a fulfilling road. It's really worth it. We have to challenge our assumptions and our lifestyles on the way. I hope you've benefited from this, and there's more to be said on this subject in the next episode, where Jesus addresses particularly the question of anxiety and fear, as means of controlling how we view material issues. That's a very important issue which follows on directly from what we've said today, and is linked very closely to it, so I hope that you'll come back and join us for the next episode, and thanks for being with us today.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Materialism is a problem that affects everyone.’ Think about this about your society.
    2. What can motivate you in your culture? Is it wrong?
    3. How do you react to the teaching in this episode? Are there any parts you struggle with? Why?
  • Discipleship
    1. ‘The love of money’ is often misquoted. Why do you think that is? What does Jesus actually say, and mean?
    2. Look at the three ways to stop materialism and pray for each other as you seek to put them into practice.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Use tagging to research ‘money’ and attitudes to it.
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